Thalita "Wolf Mama" and German Shepherd Nala thru hiked the Long Trail this summer. In the following interview you'll read about specific difficulties of the rugged Long Trail, how Nala got all the calories she needed and some general planning tips if you are a prospective long distance hiker with your dog.
Here's how Wolf Mama summed up her experience:
"My magical journey through the wilderness ended the same way it began, with tears in my eyes and my heart overflowing with emotions. I can officially call myself a Long Trail Thru-Hiker / End-To-Ender!!! I am so happy to have reached my goal of thru-hiking the LT this year but I’m also very sad to see this amazing adventure come to an end. I’ve grown so much and learned a lot about myself and how strong I really am in the past month, physically and mentally. This was the hardest challenge I’ve ever set myself up for, but it was also the most empowering, freeing, and meditative thing I’ve ever done. I’ll never be the same!"
You can find them on Instagram @thalitaaax
The Long Trail is known to be very rugged. There are sections with aluminum ladders to descend and steep ledges, etc. Were any of these sections particularly difficult for Nala, if so- how did you get through them?
I found blog and forum posts talking about these sections all around the internet, but I found myself coming back to bringfido.com and hikewithyourdog.com. However, the most reliable source of warnings was the hikers coming from the opposite direction. The key was having communication with home base so they could advise me on how to negotiate these obstacles. I used a satellite text messenger, but in a pinch, a cell phone with a battery pack could work.
The simplest solution, which we took on the Forehead and the Cliff House of Mount Mansfield, was to simply avoid the areas with ladders. For the Forehead there was a bypass trail called Forehead Bypass and for the Cliff House, we just didn’t go. However, there was one section called Ladder Ravine near Camels Hump, about 1.5 miles north of Cowles Cove shelter where there was a 12 ft aluminum painters ladder we had to descend. Based on everything I had heard, there was no reasonable way to bypass it nor was the ladder short enough to assist Nala down the ladder. So in my resupply earlier that week, I had a crevasse-rescue pulley system delivered, and intended to lower Nala down by her harness. When I arrived at Cowles Cove shelter and had rain predicted the next day, I erred on the side of caution and took a zero day, waiting for the rain to pass before trying to pass any dubious obstacle. The following day, when we reached the ladder we found that by going maybe 100 m off the trail, the cliff that the ladder descended decreased to maybe 4 ft, which Nala just jumped down.
How did you keep her calorie intake up?
Being such a big dog, she consumed something like 5 cups of food per day, which is why her robust pack was so essential. Nala’s food was kept in gallon-sized ziplocs, with each day being a separate bag. It helped with rationing and watching for healthy consumption. On a resupply day, I would pick up ziplocs full of food and critically, make adjustments to how much should be in the next food drop.
If not for my support crew, intake of food, particularly nutritious food, would have been difficult. As a German Shephard, she’s prone to joint problems, which is why I make sure she has food that’s loaded with glucosamine and chondroitin. But getting that food at every little town along the trail seemed impossible, unless I shipped it to the post office, which would have been expensive. What’s more, even just finding any dog food or treats is hard if your resupply stop is a one-horse-town with a single gas station. And if you find the food, nutritious or not, it comes in a bag too big for Nala to carry. So in the lead-up to the hike, before I knew I was going to have support, I was considering all kinds of solutions involving the mail and bump boxes and maybe cutting her good food with whatever I could find in each town, etc.
The bigger challenge I found was getting her to eat all her food. She tended to be torn between the option of sleeping and eating. So to combat this, I served her food as often as possible (which she tended to eat while in sleep-position) and I would sometimes mix some kind of treat into her food to motivate to choose to eat over sleep.
Did you have any routines for your dog for town days and resupplies, paw care, and bedtime?
We actually only had one town day, per se, and it was at the Inn at Long Trail. We didn’t make trips into town because I had a support crew who was either delivering supplies and picking up waste in-person.
Regarding paw care, I used Musher’s Secret. I bought the 200-gram container, which is this cylinder roughly 4 inches across and 4 inches tall. This worked well because I could just stick it on Nala’s paw while she laid on her side, and twist it back and forth to apply the wax. In hindsight, I probably could have bought a few 60g containers and had the same effect, and not had Nala carrying a half pound of wax.
Bedtime was never really an issue for her, whether we were on the trail or in the Inn. The trail made her so tired that she would nap at any opportunity, and her breed is so well equipped for the outdoors that the heat or cold or rain or bugs never really bothered her. That being said, I bought a vestibule for my tent, and on nights when it was rainy or particularly buggy, she would sleep in the vestibule.
What's your best advice for prospective long distance hikers with their dog?
Make sure your dog comes back when you call them. Nala was off-leash for the entire hike except when we were crossing roads. Having good verbal recall is very important because sometimes you may come across another hiker that’s uncomfortable with dogs or even another dog that’s not friendly. (Please note: Nala does not have a prey-drive)
Train your dog before you thru-hike. I very frequently took Nala day-hiking and weekend-hiking before we thru-hiked so she was physically in shape to be climbing mountains all day. Also, I also made her wear a pack on her back with some weight to make sure she was used to having it on her as she walked/climbed.
Trust. Trust between you and your dog is essential. Nala likes to wander around and explore but she never goes where she can’t see me. When we were at camp, she just wandered around and patrolled the campsite. On the nights that we tented, Nala slept outside the tent. Every morning she was always right outside my tent waiting for me. If you are uncomfortable with your dog being outside the tent while you are sleeping, train them to sleep inside the tent with you.
Do your research. Make sure with the trail or forest association that you’re planning on hiking that dogs are allowed on the trail. Also, plan out what gear you will need for your dog. It’s important to keep in mind that your dog will need gear for its safety, health and comfort. I spent a lot of time debating over what type of gear was best for Nala. I’d have to say I made the greatest choice when I went with the GBG pack for dogs! I also added Benadryl to my first aid kit and actually had to use it with Nala on one occasion.
Follow trail etiquette. When your dog poops, push it off away from the trail or dig it up. No one wants to see that, smell that or risk stepping on it. Be aware of other hikers or dogs on trail and at camp. When you are on a summit in an alpine zone, make sure your dog doesn’t walk on the fragile plants. Vegetation in those environments is very delicate and can be easily destroyed with trampling. If your dog likes to wander into the grass, just keep them on a leash.
When you complete your thru-hike, don’t forget to apply for certifications and patches for yourself as well as your dog! Most associations now grant them for dogs as well, and I believe dogs should be recognized for their grand achievement just like us. Nala is officially a Long Trail End-to-Ender just like me!
And finally, what trail do you have your eyes on next?
I really want to do the PCT. I’m not sure I’ll have the time for a whole PCT hike, so I’ve been more intently scoping out the John Muir Trail. It’s shorter and goes through some of the more noteworthy areas of the PCT, and is coincident with the PCT for much of its length. In essence, the JMT is to the PCT what the LT is to the AT.
Big congrats to Nav and her Sheltie Arrow for a successful Northbound thru hike of the Appalachian Trail! It takes a very special dog to hike the entire (dog) AT and we want to know how Arrow did it! Here's our interview with Nav!
Nav's video blog is here: www.youtube.com/c/HikingWithArrow
And her Instagram is: @hikingwitharrow
What was your approach to bringing Arrow on the thru hike with you- did you think she'd do the entire trail or were you playing it by ear based on her energy level?
The very first time I ever backpacked was 3 years ago, and Arrow went with me (she was only 6 months at the time). On that trip, I saw a different side I had never seen — she just seemed so happy and free! She really came alive out there, and she behaved so well. When I decided to thru-hike, I felt like I just couldn’t do it without her. She is her absolute happiest and best self on trail. I did plan to take her for the entire hike, but I obviously had to keep in mind that her happiness came first, and if it ever seemed like she wasn’t enjoying it, she would go home.
Did Arrow do every section except for the off limits sections in the Smokys, Bear Mtn and Baxter S.P.?
For the most part, yes! There were a couple random days where we were staying with friends and I was slack-packing that I decided to give her the days off to rest. She also, unfortunately, got Lyme disease during our hike, so she did have to take a couple days off while I continued on. She joined me two days later, though!
What were the main factors that contributed to Arrow's success on the hike?
Well, for one, her breed. She is a Shetland Sheepdog, and this breed was literally created to run all day. Arrow is very much a working dog, so when we would be hiking every day, I really think that she thought she was working and it was her job to get my tramily and I down the trail every day! (So cute.) Our longest day was 32 miles, and I swear it didn’t even phase her. She is extremely athletic and motivated. I think another thing that really helped her was her attitude. This kind of feels silly to say, but I feel like Arrow is a very positive dog and is always ready for whatever. I could tell when we were going up long uphills that it would start to tire her out, but she’s smart and would slow down or take breaks to keep her going. Oh, and I can’t forget, the abundant amount of sticks she chewed on! I think that definitely kept her spirits high and kept her going.
What type of logistical and physical support did you get from folks at home?
Obviously hiking with a dog can be a little complicated, and my husband was so great with helping me. As you know, dogs aren’t allowed in the Smoky Mountains, so Arrow couldn’t do that section with me. My husband, Parker, came and met me before the Smokies to pick up Arrow, and then he also brought her back to me after I finished them! That was pretty much the only help I needed with her from home, as I was always able to get her dog food in towns and such. One other instance, when Arrow got Lyme she was able to stay with the parents of one of the guys I hiked with. The trail provides!
What are some things that came up during your hike bc you were hiking with a dog that maybe you hadn't thought of before-hand?
I’m not gonna lie, the whole Lyme disease thing really freaked me out. I was SO diligent about tick-checking her every single night, but I guess sometimes you just can’t help it. Thankfully, Lyme is much easier to treat in dogs than humans, so she just had to take a couple days off and she was back. Luckily we were staying at one of my tramily members’ houses during this time, so she was able to hang out with his parents while we were hiking.
Would you mind sharing about any particularly difficult days you and Arrow had?
The day we were supposed to hike into Harper’s Ferry, WV, Arrow started puking profusely that morning during our hike. We had about 11 miles to go that day, and she started doing that around mile 4. My hiking partner and I just kept stopping with her every time she would start to throw up, and then eventually we took turns carrying her. Thankfully there was a road 1 mile away when she started throwing up, so we very slowly got there and I got a hitch into town to a vet. After running tests and everything, the vet said she was totally healthy and that she probably just got into something or drank some weird water. That was a scary day, but everything turned out great!
What were some of your favorite things about having Arrow with you and/or what was your favorite memory from your hike?
Oh, man. I couldn’t imagine having hiked without her. She is such a loyal, fun little companion that always brought a smile to anyone’s face. Every morning she would cuddle with me, and then she would make her way around camp and snuggle with anyone else who wanted it. I always had people tell me what a mood lifter she was! There were times that I’d be on a tough uphill or just was feeling tired, and seeing her happy little face encouraged me so much and gave me the will power to keep going. One reason I love backpacking so much and got into it so heavily was because I knew how happy it made Arrow. It makes me happy to see her so happy!
What other advice would you like to give to prospective long distance hikers who would like to take their dog?
I could go on and on about this, but my biggest thing I always preach is just make sure it’s the right dog. The breed of your dog, what its intended purpose is, is so vitally important. Also, does your dog enjoy long hikes? Not just 5 or 10 miles, but 20 miles over tough terrain. It’s important to assess your dog’s ability to handle that kind of exertion and if they actually enjoy it. The physical safety and all around well-being of your dog is your number one priority! Another thing that is so important to think about is how well behaved is your dog, really? We all like to think our dogs are the best, but having a dog that runs up on other people, other dogs, gets into people’s stuff, etc., can be a real nuisance. You must consider the people you’re around and how your dog will come across to them. Also, having a dog that listens to you and minds is vital. There are so many exciting smells, sights, animals and other things that your dog may want to check out, but for your safety and theirs, it’s important that they listen when you tell them what to do. Some other things to think about are: When in town, you have to be sure to find dog-friendly places. Not all are! Also, not everyone is a dog person, so sometimes you may not be able to hang out with certain people if they have issues with dogs.
What's next for you and Arrow?
Well, we are about to move to Pittsburgh, PA, and we’ve got some future hiking plans in the works. :)
It's been 3 years since we've driven to Wyoming with Cooper to hike in the Bighorns. This was also our first backpacking trip in the past 2 years without our toddler Wes. He's good for about a mile on his own feet and is now too heavy to carry in the pack so sadly he's gonna miss out on the longer trips til he can build up his mileage. Powder River's dad Gary joined us once again on this trip. At 72 he's still going strong with backpacking at high elevation! Powder's folks live in Sheridan, WY at the base of the Bighorns, an impressive but often overlooked range for travelers. This is in our favor: we love hiking with no other people around and having such beautiful country to ourselves!
This trip we tried a new trailhead for us, Lower Paint Rock Lake. It was the longest drive we've done for a trailhead out from Sheridan- long mainly because we were on gravel road of variable conditions for 25miles. The total drive was 4 hours, the gravel section took us 1.5 hours.
From Lower Paint Rock Lake, we took trail no. 59 to Teepee Pole Flats. We made a base camp in the North Paint Rock Creek Valley, a bit beyond Teepee Pole Flats. We spent two nights camped there and day hiked on the second day to Cliff Lake using trail no. 38 and no. 60.
We initially thought we'd base camp at Cliff Lake and then day hike the trail no. 60 and 38 loop. After the long drive and a decent 5 mile uphill hike to Paint Rock Creek (breathing heavily and taking lots of rest stops since we were up at 9000ft but left town at 3700ft), we decided to pull up short and make camp. This made for a nice hike out on our third day to the closest cheeseburger. We started missing Wes pretty bad too so it was nice to catch him for a few hours before bedtime on our final hike day. Compared to other sections we've done in Cloud Peak, we really enjoyed the variety this trail had to offer. The first leg sadly meanders through a vast blow-down section of pines. The best we could figure is maybe a squall swept through- the trees here were not diseased at all, so maybe a fierce wind alone took them down in a somewhat straight swath. The trail maintenance was superb- the blow-downs were chainsawed through, making a nice wide path. Once we crossed into the wilderness area, we climbed through pristine pine forests dotted with wildflowers which then opened up to a vast park ("park" means meadow) called Sheep Creek Park. Compared to any meadow on the AT- for example, Grayson Highlands- this Sheep Creek Park is enormous. It's immense size is hard to fully take in- like looking out on a sea of grass. Cooper enjoyed rolling rolling rolling and we were happy to have clear skies on both the in and out traverse of this high alpine meadow. You surely would not want to cross it in a thunderstorm!
For parts of this hike we felt like we were in the Lord of the Rings when the fellowship is running from Orcs right before they take the shortcut to Rivendell. My favorite terrain in the Bighorns are the meadows around the high alpine lakes. Cliff Lake did not disappoint and we took note of how this was probably one of the best days of Cooper's life hiking and swimming!
We figured Cooper might be pretty stiff after this hike but he really surprised us and didn't act tired at all when we got back to Sheridan! He's almost 8 now and since he's got a toddler, his walks are limited to what Wes can do. We're so glad we made the drive so Cooper could come too. He is at his happiest in the wilderness and he was such a good boy on the hike. It helped that we didn't encounter many chipmunks, marmots or pika- actually we didn't see any marmots or pika, though we heard them from a distance. We also didn't see any elk or moose- but of course saw lots of poop. We leashed Cooper on large sections of our walk, especially in moosey looking spots like river marshes. We did encounter a pack of 4 horses with 2 riders, on their way to "pack out some kids." Not sure we met the kids or quite understood why they needed "packing out" but we suppose some folks go-heavy in the backcountry. The Bighorns aren't very well known to the ultralight backpacking community and the couple of hikers we did encounter all had huge external frame packs.
Cooper enjoyed wearing his Turtle Top Quilt on this trip- it did feel pretty chilly at night, probably in the upper 40s and we had rain the second night. I enjoyed not having to check on him in the middle of the night, to make sure his blanket was still on, because our Turtle TQ doesn't slide off- it stays on and fully drapes your dog all through the night, even when they get up to circle! We used a piece of a Thermarest Z-rest for his ground insulation.
The only downside of our trip was the bugs! Poor Cooper got eaten alive with black flies and had blood welts on his belly. We tried using Picardin on ourselves, but when it didn't cut-it after about an hour, we switched to our old standby, 100% deet. We were glad we had pre-treated our clothes with Permethrin. I sure regretted not bringing a pair of pants. I was going light with only my hiking dress and my wool long underwear. Man I missed the rainpants- they work great when there's biting flies around. Biting flies could care less if your legs are covered in 100% deet.
The best view of the hike was when we were on our way back to the truck and found this overlook. We had a view up a large canyon. Cooper was quite done with biting insects at this point and we realized the quilt helps protect him from getting bitten when we lays down while wearing it.
Thanks for reading! Please let your friends know about our Turtle TQ!
Huck's Gear List:
*Pack: Groundbird Gear pack
*Leash: Rocket Dog 6' convertible slip lead (proudly made in VT!). I also carried the waist portion of my bungee waist leash. While the UL backpacker in me cried to carry it, it was invaluable when attaching him to things like trees during breaks, picnic tables at shelters, my pack while in town, etc.
*Sleep pad: Thermarest z-lite (cut in half)
*Sleeping Bag: I had planned to use my puffy jacket to cover him, but the nights never got cold enough for him to need it
*Food storage: several ziploc bags, 8oz plastic cup to measure food (taken from hotel room). The excess food that I carried went into a separate food bag that I would hang at night with his bowl and pack.
*Dog bowl: collapsible bowl (would not recommend attaching to dog pack; his got punctured on day 2)
*Paw wax: Musher's secret
*Microfiber pack towel. Which we didn't use on our 165 mile section - just one day of real rain.
*Orange bandanna, for safety and adorable factor. Made by mountain.mutt.made on etsy.
*Poop bags for town, poop trowel for the woods: I buried his poop like I would my own while in the backcountry. I carry the *Deuce of Spades, weighing in at half an ounce!
*Collar with ID tags
Huck carried his pack, a little less than half his food, his Musher's wax, and pack towel. I sherpa'd the rest.
Some background/trail prep:
I have thru hiked the Appalachian Trail and the Colorado Trail. Over 2,500 miles of backpacking experience, over varied terrain and through varied elements. 105 of the 273 miles of the Long Trail coincide with the AT, which means I've already hiked over a third of it. However, being a new (and first-time) dog owner - Huck and I spent our 7 month adopt-a-versary on trail - I have never been responsible for a dog on an extended backpacking trip. Which meant that in the days leading up to my - or rather, our - hike, instead of feeling SO excited I was pretty anxious. Not without a healthy dose of excitement mixed in, but still, anxious for how my furry hiking partner would fare over the coming weeks. I had planned out our mileage ahead of time, planning to build gradually and planning to carry most of his food since with the insanely hot summer we had I had not been able to condition Huck (or myself, as evidenced by my trail-ending injury) as I would have liked. I also had decided to transition him from his regular kibble to something that would be more easily found on the trail in the quaint general stores I was likely to encounter - after walking to the neighborhood CVS, I figured its selection would be as limited as any I'd find on trail - the winner was a 4.4lb bag of Purina Puppy Chow. I chose puppy chow because 2 friends I made on the AT who hiked with their dogs had used it, citing more nutrients in the puppy chow that would be beneficial while hiking big miles for days on end. So I portioned out the food into ziploc baggies and loaded a few day's worth into Huck's pack, and the the rest into mine. I didn't figure it was fair for him to carry all the food, at least right off the bat, even though the bag of puppy chow was 4.4lbs - exactly 10% of his body weight. I decided to load a little less than half the bag into his pack, along with his Musher's wax and pack towel; I was his sherpa for the rest. I knew the mileage would be tough on its own.
When we hit the trail I immediately felt better, and the fact I had worked with him on a half dozen overnights in the mountains around MA, VT, and NH on hiking behind me in a heel position helped tremendously. For the first day I kept him on leash, since we had NOT worked on perfecting his recall. He has a high prey drive and I didn't want him abandoning me for a chipmunk, or worse, deer, or worse still - a bear or porcupine. Although eventually I decided to let him off leash for half the hiking we did for the first week. He did well -- staying right beside me and respecting my commands to stay back when he began creeping around where the trail widened. I gave him 5 chipmunk chases per day before leashing him for the duration of the day. I didn't want him wasting precious energy, but wanted him to have a little bit of fun. It was his hike, too. And if we encountered other humans, dogs, and always at shelters, he would remain leashed. Keeping him in a constant heel while hiking made it incredibly easy for me to spot upcoming distractions like off leash dogs ahead and prevent him from running up to them, or block the errant unknown dogs if need be. His off leash freedom ended around Clarendon Gorge when scrambling up rocks we spotted Mr. Prickles the Porcupine chilling among the boulders. I thought that hiking with him on a 6' leash would be annoying for all-day affairs, day after day, but I got used to it, and was happy to have the peace of mind that he couldn't get into trouble. I don't hike with trekking poles so it was no problem for me to just keep my wrist behind me as I walked. I could almost forget he was there! Until of course he jerked after a chippie or snagged himself on a tree.
As we got farther north, the terrain became rockier, rooty-er, and more technical. Huck is 2 years old, on the lean side of healthy weight, and a very agile, working breed dog - Australian Shepherd/cattle dog mix - so I had seen first hand that he can handle what the LT would throw at us. He has some experience with ladders and near-vertical ascents in the Whites of NH. One of the most surprising moments on the LT was when he parkoured up a 7' rock wall just north of the Appalachian Gap! I was in the process of finding him an easier route but he just went for it. I kept him unleashed in those technical sections for both of our safety (after ensuring no porcupines in the immediate trail vicinity). I also made the decision to take his pack of for intense descents to save his knees, and lowered him down a ladder at one point by his harness. Although as fate would have it, my body gave out and we had to quit the trail. He seemed very tired during the breaks we took and would lay down at nearly every opportunity after the first few days, but also seemed to really enjoy backpacking life. Every morning he would zoom around the campsite (once we were alone on the trail, or in camp with just our friends), or find the biggest branch he could and drag it around camp and wrestle with it.
Know your dog/trail etiquette:
Huck is friendly but shy and nervous around people he doesn't know, so I kept him away from people and asked that they didn't pet him unless he walked up to them if called. I find it much better to avoid a growly situation by being up front about your dog's needs. Even if they're as cute as Huck, they don't need to be forced into being everyone's best friend. Which also solidifies the trust your dog has in you, and after only 6 days Huck came out of his shell and became much more comfortable with nearly every stranger he encountered in the woods! I would only get halfway through my spiel about him being nervous when he'd be at their feet (for those hikers interested, of course). Otherwise every time we passed a hiker I gave Huck the command to "pull over" and he would sit-stay on the side of the trail until released. I feel proper etiquette is key when hiking with dogs; I try to be a good ambassador for trail dogs and their owners. As far as the few towns we hitched into, if I had to leave him I would attach him to my pack, put him somewhere out of the way to avoid any humans or dogs from interacting with him while I was gone, and keep my visits into stores brief. I had worked on his down-stays and place command since adopting him 7 months prior, and before hitting the trail began gradually building up to more distracting areas/longer durations, and ultimately public places like restaurants, storefronts, etc. so that he was not stressed out when I was out of sight. I actually got several compliments on his good behavior! And of course a tired dog from a full day on trail is usually not going to have much energy to waste anyhow. I continued our obedience work as best I could on trail to keep him sharp, and also did his party tricks (stick 'em up is always a hit) at shelters to endear him to others on the trail. Speaking of shelters, Huck and I tented every night since it was always a shared space.
Dog food/doggie maintenance:
As far as the trail went, the southern 58 miles were incredibly muddy, but we only had one day of rain and I found that somehow despite his being pretty muddy, I never needed to wipe him down at night before getting into tent. I fed him breakfast first thing in the morning, before breaking down the tent or eating my own breakfast, and he would eat dinner first thing when arriving at camp. He went from 1c twice a day (at home) to 1.5c twice a day, with some extra kibble for lunch mixed in with a couple heaping spoonfuls of peanut butter. I found that lunchtime really helped boost his energy. We ended up hiking bigger miles than I had planned; about 13mpd average over the 2 weeks we were out there. Our shortest day was a 7 miles (first day; we got to camp at 2pm and were incredibly bored until sunset) and our longest day was just over 17 miles. When his energy started flagging or he looked tired, I would take his pack off and carry it. I also made sure to give him plenty of decent breaks through the day, especially during the few days with temps in the high 80s - mid 90s (gross). Lots of water breaks, cooling his paw pads in streams, and splashing water up under his belly, groin, and armpits. Speaking of paw pads - the most important ritual we had was taking care of them. Each morning (after breakfast, of course) I would apply Musher's Secret Wax to his pads and inspect them for damage. This was something we had practiced for months to get him used to me handling his paws, and now he could sleep through me messing with them.
Since we have been home he has seemed more confident around other humans, which is a huge deal. I have no doubt he could have finished the remaining 108 miles if my ankle hadn't gotten injured, despite the intimidating faces of Camel's Hump and Mansfield looming ahead of us. Our mileage was about to drop down to a cool 10mpd to account for the increasingly difficult terrain. It was a novel experience to backpack with a dog that I am responsible for, rather than other friends' dogs who I can appreciate for their ability to make you smile after a hard day's hike, pets, and help with finishing up those gross Pasta Side leftovers. It was difficult in ways that I had until now only heard about, but his companionship made the miles of the seemingly deserted (but gorgeous) Long Trail less lonely. I liked having him at camp to talk to and take care of, and to snuggle with in the tent in the mornings. Though each morning his stretching stressed me out as his nails clawed at my $500 tent, and it was more difficult to hike thinking about how the 5lbs I had managed to shave off my base weight through several years and hundreds of dollars worth of gear upgrades was immediately replaced with his dog food and gear, and it was much more difficult and expensive (hotel pet fees, etc.) to navigate town life, his cute fluffy face and his sheer enjoyment of much of the trail reminded me why I wanted him out there with me. I'm not sure if I would attempt a 6 month hike with him, but I look forward to getting back to the trail next summer and seeing what those remaining miles leading to Canada hold.
Katie (Trailname "Crayon") and Oliver (trailname "Poncho") thru hiked Vermont's Long Trail northbound in July/Aug of 2018. Crayon had a successful thru with Poncho and agreed to share a few details. We hope it helps you in your planning! Poncho at the time of the hike was 1.5 yrs old, weighed 42 pounds, is a cattle dog mix and wore the size small Trekking Pack. Enjoy reading about their hike!
What kind of backpacking trips had you done either by yourself or with Oliver before the LT?
Honestly, we only did one multi-day trip before thru hiking. I adopted Oliver in October and decided to hike the Long Trail the following summer, so we haven’t been together very long! We have day-hiked together once or twice a week since I got him. At first it was very difficult. He had spent his entire young life in a cage and was not leash trained, had a high prey-drive, and zero recall. It was frustrating. I got the help of a professional trainer and was totally committed to getting him up to speed- I’m very active outdoors and it’s really important to me that Oliver be able to participate in all my adventures! But it’s also really important to me that he be well behaved, safe, and not a risk or annoyance to others. I live in southern New Hampshire and have really close access to some less populated hiking trails, so all winter we were out there training, training, training. I had always wanted to hike the LT but wouldn’t commit until I was certain that Oliver could handle it behavior and conditioning-wise.
Did you have any concerns with Poncho and the difficulty of the terrain (slab climbing etc) and or Poncho meeting a moose or other potentially dangerous animal encounter (snakes, porcupines etc).
By the spring I was feeling very confident in Poncho’s behavior and really proud of how far he’d come! I started taking him up into the White Mountains to see how he’d handle the terrain and some really populated trails. He is happiest when he’s hiking and he really impressed me with how trail-savvy he is. Part of that is breed, I think- he’s a cattle dog mix. The LT offered up some of the more rugged and technical hiking I’ve done. He needed a few boosts here and there. The handles on your pack were so useful! It was fun to watch him get more comfortable scrambling as we headed further North. By the end I was barely assisting him at all. Unless we were scrambling, I had him hike behind me so I could see what was coming- critters, people, etc. This worked really well for us. I leashed all through the Pico/Killington area because of the high porcupine population- there were warning signs on the shelters! I also leashed if we were hiking early in the morning or at dusk. We did the rest of the hike off leash! We saw 2 moose from a distance and he stood quietly and observed them with me. He chases the occasional chipmunk but when we’re long distance hiking and he’s wearing a pack he’s usually all business. I think he considers it to be his job, hahah!
What did he carry in his pack?
Just his food! I upped his calorie intake by 50% by adding a powdered, dehydrated dog food formula on top of his regular kibble. He was able to carry both comfortably. His pack never exceeded 10% of his body weight.
Did you decide to resupply in towns or do mail-drops, or a little of both?
I did mail-drops because I wanted to be sure that I’d have his food and in the correct amounts. It was a short enough thru-hike that this wasn’t really a big issue!
How many day sections between town days did you do?
We had 4 resupplies with about 5 days between each.
How did you do town days with Oliver?
I did end up hiking with some great people who were more than happy to help keep him entertained if I had to go somewhere, but there were a few instances where I had to tie him while I ran quickly into a store. I had to make advanced hostel or hotel reservations because of limited dog-friendly options, so I was held more to a set schedule than other hikers who could take zeroes, etc. if they wanted to on a whim. We had no zeroes, just a couple neroes. Hitching took a bit longer because on all the days we hitched it was pouring rain and I had a wet, muddy dog! The people who picked us up were of course big dog and hiker lovers and I was very grateful to them, hahah!
Did you need to do anything to help protect his paws?
I applied Mushers Wax every couple days and had a set of emergency booties, gauze, and vet wrap. Luckily we did not need them! His paws held up great!
What kind of sleep set-up do you have with him?
I have a 2-person tent (Big Agnes Copper Spur) and he sleeps on his own thermarest z-lite. I sort of committed to carrying more weight/extra gear once I decided he would join me on the thru. He’s doing big miles and long days like me so I felt that he deserved to be comfortable at night! He didn’t need any sort of blanket/sleeping bag, but on the 1 or 2 nights it got a bit chilly I covered him with my down puffy jacket. We did sleep in shelters through the northern portion because it was wet and rainy. He was really well behaved and handled this just fine.
What time is "doggie-midnight" ;)
As soon as he had dinner he would be down for the count! I put him “to bed” in the tent or in the shelter and he would sleep through the night. He also learned to grab a nap whenever we stopped for a quick break along the trail. I also gave him a longer 30-45 min rest in the middle of each day. He fell into a routine really fast!
What was your favorite day on Trail with Poncho?
It’s hard to choose one! He’s my buddy and such a loyal friend. I think the last day was my favorite. I was just so proud of him and so grateful for our friendship. I’m convinced he’d follow me just about anywhere. Dogs really are amazing creatures! I’m so lucky that Poncho and I found each other.
The Long Trail is America's oldest long distance hiking trail. It was the vision and dream of James P. Taylor in the early 1900s. He created the Green Mountain Club in 1910 and the first section of trail was cut in 1912. The final section of trail was cut in 1930. We visited the Club headquarters in Waterbury: it is very nice! Stop in when you visit VT!
Long before the creation of the Green Mountain Club, there were the Green Mountain Boys: a militia led by Ethan Allen. They, in a large part, are the reason Vermont is a state today and not part of NY. NY wanted those lush Green Mountains for themselves!
The GMBs' most famous feats include the capture of Fort Ticonderoga in 1775 from the British and they assisted in the Battle of Bennington which was also a victory over the Brits. Ironically, both locations are situated within the state of NY.
We were glad to visit all of these historical sites! We even made it up to Montreal for about 24 hours. The Green Mountain Boys also tried to take Montreal but failed. Our brief trip up there was also a bit of a failure as our Green Mountain Boy did not enjoy the busy streets!
Thank you for reading about our historical side trips and nerdom! We were pretty excited to meet some Vermonters who would recognize Cooper's special edition pack but only met 3 people who caught the pack's resemblance to the Green Mountain Boys' flag.
The Long Trail: Divisions 12 and 11: Canada Border to VT 15
Powder River and I planned to do a little more than one third of the Long Trail on this trip, from the border of Canada to Appalachian Gap, VT 17. We left our car at the Hyde Away Inn in Waitsfield (we highly recommend this Inn!) and paid for a shuttle to the Northern Terminus of the trail, about a 2 hour drive. Thank you Carlene for the great shuttle!
The Long Trail is 273 miles long from Canada to Massachusetts. It joins the Appalachian Trail at VT4 near Killington. It (as well as the AT) is marked with white blazes.
We arrived at the trailhead parking a couple hours before dark. The hike to the actual start of the LT to the Canadian border is 1.3 mile. We really enjoyed hanging out near the border! Our shuttle driver pointed out how the American border police SUV was parked nearby and we thought of what that job must be like. We camped about a half mile south of the terminus.
So Day One was brief but lovely! Day Two we hiked 8 miles to Laura Woodward Shelter (at the northern base of Jay Mountain). It was very difficult, as we expected! We remembered what Maine and New Hampshire were like on our respective thru hikes of the AT and knew that the Northern section of the Long Trail would be similar. The unknown for us on this trip was how Cooper would do. He is prey driven and we kept him on leash always, with the occasional brief spurt of "catch and release" to let him climb up or down major rock scrambles. I would release him and he would run to Powder River. No treat can ever trump his love of chasing animals and our caution was not too extreme (last summer he chased some moose that we had not seen fast enough to prevent him from chasing). What was extreme was Powder River's experience of being constantly bound to our Tuxedo Mutt on this incredibly rugged trail!
On Day Three we sat down on the side of the trail and thought maybe Cooper is just not ready for this kind of rugged trail and he needs more leash training. We also admitted that we were not in our old thru-hiker shape and this trail is really tough! I am sad to admit that we tried to bail on our hike and hitched down to Montgomery Center on Rt 242. God was good to not let us give up so easily and after a couple aimless hours in that tiny town with no cell signal, we hitched back to the trail and decided to hike to the road crossing for Eden. Good thing because our hike became much more enjoyable over the next several days!
The morning of Day three we had a great time on the fogged summit of Jay Peak. We hung out in the ski tram hut and ate amazing sandwiches from the cafe and drank Tram Ale, made especially for Jay Resort by Long Trail Brewing. Cooper was not a fan of the tram arriving and departing and kids coming and going. But he did receive some nice trail magic up there in the form of a bungee leash that was given to us by a day hiker!
When our hitch delivered us back to the trail, we hiked north of the road to camp and Jay Camp.
Day Four: We started working with Cooper to stay leashed and behind Powder on descents. It wasn't always perfect, and Powder had an active time preventing Cooper from passing him by planting his trekking poles in just the right spots so that Cooper could not squeeze through. It was possible though due to just how narrow the trail is and how incredibly dense the woods are! I'm actually amazed moose can travel through this mess of pines trees, each one tangled in it's neighbor. We saw moose tracks and fresh poop but never heard or saw one, probably for the better. (For those unfamiliar with moose: they are not to be taken lightly! They are very territorial and WILL chase you down to get you off their spot, as Powder can attest!)
You can probably guess by now that we were not on track to do our planned 100 mile section in our allotted 10 days. Possibly Powder and I could have done it without Cooper, but it still would have been very difficult and I know my legs would have been shot after the third 11 mile day and I'd be back on my ibuprofen regiment. We chose the pace we could handle comfortably which turned out to be about 8 miles a day. Day Four we did 7 miles and camped just before Rt 58 and the major climb up Haystack Mountain.
Cooper's trail running skills are only matched by his trail-side napping skills! He would lay down at every possible opportunity :)
Day Five: We climbed for hours over several false summits of Haystack Mountain. We made it to Tillosten Shelter around 4pm and a nice Canadian family with two young kids came in for the night. We walked on, past the pond and another 2.5 miles to Belvidere peak. A Nobo had told us there was a nice fire tower up there and that he had camped up there. And it was lovely!!!
Day Six we hiked out to VT 18 with a plan to hitch to Morristown, get a rental car and drive back to the Hyde Away Inn (reunite with our car and then return the rental car). We prayed for a hitch after trying to call around a get a shuttle but to no avail. Our prayer was answered in a big way: the second car that passed us picked us up and took us to Enterprise rental car! Our driver was really great and told us about his son who was "our age" and was a scientist but is currently a studio artist in Bennington. He gave us his son's business card and we were able to visit him at his studio at the end of our time in Vermont! What a pleasure to see your work in person, Aaron! Such an inspiration to see your work and know where it comes from! You can visit Aaron's studio in the 400 block of Pine St, Bennington, Vt behind Speedy and Earl's coffee.
Back on Trail and Finishing Divisions 12 and 11:
We got back on the trail a after a couple of days off and started where we left off: VT 118. We were excited to scramble through "Devil's Gulch." A Nobo we met on day one told us that it reminded her of Mahoosuc Notch on the AT in Maine. We were excited for that and also remembered that it took us 2.5 hours to do the one mile Mahoocuc Notch. So we figured it might take us a while to go through the gulch as well- but we also had no idea that it was so short in length, maybe 0.2 mile... It was fun but only took about 10 minutes and we only had to pick Cooper up by his harness handles one time.
We stayed at Spruce Ledge hut/camp directly after the gulch and met Anthony + Lisa; Kevin and dog Gibson: Sobo Long Trail thru-hikers. It was fun hiking with them for a day and they inspired us to do a big mileage day: 15 miles from Spruce Ledge to Roundtop Shelter. We had fun getting to know them and know that they must be having a great time journeying on the LT this month! Cooper enjoyed meeting Gibson! The next day we hiked out to the road where we completed this year's section hike, at VT15. We landed another God-sent hitch and made it all the way back to our car at the obscure trailhead parking of 118!
What we learned from this trip and some detail about Cooper's booties
We re-learned that we struggle to press on when we know our car is in the area and we again discussed what an admirable feat it is to be a section hiker! Powder and I both have this wonderful memory of our thru-hikes and what it was like to hike through pain and all sorts of trail and weather conditions to meet the end goal. We are not great section hikers however, and it's good to just remember that even though at one time we did 15-20 mile days, day after day for 6 months during our thru-hikes, we maybe need to set out with more gracious expectations for ourselves when we plan section hikes. Also we love to go to historical sites and we didn't exactly make time for that in our original plan to hike 110 miles, but when we decided to trim our section, we had more time to go to Montreal, Fort Ticonderoga, The Ben and Jerry's Factory, The Green Mountain Club, visit with our new friend Caitlin and her dog Vaida, go the the home of Ethan Allen, etc etc. It was a great trip and I'm glad we got to explore the area with our car as well as our feet on trail. The weather was also much hotter than we expected and we were glad that as section hikers we could bail and not press on over those rugged mountains with 90 degree temps!
We learned our own limits and Cooper's limits on a section hike on difficult trail in high temperatures. Cooper had to wear his booties (made by dogbooties.com) the first several days to protect his pads from the onslaught of granite. He became very good about us putting them on! This amazed us that he some how knew and allowed us to take care of his feet for him. At the end of our trip, his pads were more rough than when we started and his declaws were a bit irritated, but he had no cuts on his feet. We have seen from some hikers in New England that dogs can lose a whole toe pad and we were glad to prevent that from occurring!!
We carried a waterbottle just for Cooper and needed to offer him water about as often as we ourselves would drink. It was really hot and just as we would stop on an ascent to drink a swig, he would also want a drink (and a mini nap!). Whatever water he did not finish in his bowl would be poured back into his bottle so that we'd have as much water as possible for him between stream crossings. When we'd get to a stream crossing we would tell him to drink (this is a command he knows) and often he wouldn't drink for long or at all, but he would drink from his bowl on the ascents.
Thanks for reading about the first section of our Long Trail section hike!
Most of the photos in this post were taken by Powder River. You can visit his professional photography page here: www.jeffsellenrick.com
I realize Valentine's Day isn't a hugely popular "holiday." But we can probably all agree that celebrating love, whether Agape, Philia or Eros is important no matter what form that celebration takes. This year for us, it did not come in the form of Russel Stovers and flowers. (Although I do like getting flowers and prefer any chocolate but Russel Stovers!) I'm so glad our celebration came in the form of a night at Hogcamp Gap and a night at the fairly new Three Springs Hostel in Central VA on the Appalachian Trail (North of Rt 60/Buena Vista, South of the Tye River).
Our church had a sermon on "What is Love" (queue the Haddaway song) recently. There is no one definition! Because love is not easily definable, it must be other-worldly: out of this world! On Wed night as we were pitching our tent under a perfect blanket of vast cosmos, we were engulfed with this other-worldly LOVE. Seemingly so unreachable for some, and yet always SO near to ALL.
Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad;
You know us, love of course also comes in the form of a sweet black and white face, always so thankful for these trips to "the woods" as he calls it. We enjoyed some day hiking in the Mt. Pleasant/Hogcamp Gap area and let me tell you, it was nice to not carry a full pack!
Three Springs Hostel
Kathleen started speaking poetry as we climbed the Falls of Campbells Creek on the Mau-Har. She said "The Appalachians aren't about the mountains, but about the rivers. The rivers carved the mountains and placed the boulders." I never knew theses mountains are sandstone. You can tell because when the rock breaks it makes "play-dough" shapes instead of right angles. Also, sometimes I've seen sand on top of mountains and this explains why! I always new the Appalachians were ancient but if I knew how they were formed, I had forgotten. Thanks Kathleen!
Yeah, it took us about 3 hours to do the 3.8 miles from Harpers Creek Shelter to Maupin Field. I say that just to show how strenuous the Mau-Har Trail is. Quite worth it and we were looking for a good workout! The temperature dropped as we came back up to the Maupin Field Shelter and I put the camera away. The descent down Bee Mountain back to the car was so icy, I wish we had micro spikes!! No joke! We had to slide down on our butts and then skip the last bit and just walk on the Parkway to get back to the car. We immediately drove into Waynesboro and since Wheezies Diner (terrible name, I know) was closed, we ate at the Mexican restaurant across from the infamous Tastee-Freeze. Yum! I'm not sorry that I was too tired to make it to the Super Bowl party when I got home. We had a great weekend and I'm so glad we were able to break up the dreary urban winter that drags on and on here in Baltimore! It's much nicer to be out in the cold and moving than caged in a grey city. Thank God for healthy bodies and beautifully maintained trails through the most special parts of Creation!
Camera: on this trip we decided to leave our big three pound DSLR (Canon 6D) at home and instead took the small Panasonic LUMIX GX1. Very happy with how these photos turned out!
Bobwhite's winter sleep system and clothing pack list:
Photography: photos on our hikes are primarily taken by my husband Jeff, a.k.a. Powder River: www.jeffsellenrick.com
If and when we do a longer section hike around 100 miles, we will probably average 15 miles in Fall (fewer hours of daylight) and maybe 18+ miles in summer (more daylight). It is pretty funny how much night hiking we typically do. And we did a bit on this trip too! The frustration of it is always searching for the shelter/campsite and the nagging feeling that maybe you've missed it! Cooper stays on leash during night hikes- his senses are always alert and maybe more so at night when all the animals are out, and we would never want to risk him tracing a scent and then not being able to find us in the dark. Again and again, he proves to us that his night vision is no better than our own. Although his night footing is far superior to our own!
We eventually made it to Damascus and were glad to be warm. We stayed at a new hostel for us, Woodchuck's and enjoyed the company of many other hikers who were also glad to be warm and dry. The next morning, we woke up to snow! Sadly we didn't take any photos. We headed out of town with a hiker named Gumby who just so happened to need a ride to the exact place we planned as our next destination of our altered trip: Catawba, VA. We had a great two hour ride getting to know Gumby. We dropped him off at the hostel in Catawba where he planned to stay for a while and do work-for-stay. We then headed up to the trailhead for the A.T. and made our way up to camp at the most photographed place on the A.T., McAfee Knob. We had a nice 4 mile hike to the Catawba Mountain Shelter, where we camped for the night. We attempted to hike up to the knob, and did get very close that night, but darkness and cold wind sent us back down to our sleeping bags. The next morning we left our tents set up and hiked to the knob soon after sunrise.
A.T. SOBO 2011
Appalachian Trail Thru Hike
A.T. In MD
A.T. In PA
A.T. In VA
Backpacking With A Dog
Best A.T. Overlooks
Cloud Peak Wilderness
Dog Hiking Pack
Green Mountain Boys
Hikes In WY
Hiking In Polar Vortex
Hiking With A Dog
Long Distance Hiking With A Dog
Minimal Elevation Gain Hike
Mountian Harbor Hostel
Teton Crest Trail
The Long Trail
Three Springs Hostel
Thru Hiking With A Dog
Tmax And Topo's Hostel
Winter Hiking With A Dog